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Adam's New Book Invites 'Mathematical Nature Walk'

John Adam, University Professor of mathematics at Old Dominion University and a prolific author in recent years, received his first copy of his new book, "A Mathematical Nature Walk," in mid-April together with a very upbeat note from the executive editor of Princeton University Press.

"I am delighted to enclose the first copy," wrote Vickie Kearn, the PUP executive editor. "As I look through it again, I am reminded of all the things I like about the way you write."

Kearn's employer also has published Adam's "Mathematics in Nature: Modeling Patterns in the Natural World" (2003) and "Guesstimation: Solving the World's Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin" (2008), the latter which he wrote with ODU's Lawrence Weinstein, University Professor of physics. Both books have won critical praise, and "Guesstimation" has proven to have long lasting popularity for a book of its type. The New York Times did a feature story on the book in April 2009, a full year after it hit the bookstores.

"We are really looking forward to the promotion phase of your book," Kearn wrote in reference to "A Mathematical Nature Walk." "We feel that based on the reviews of 'Math in Nature' and the recent success of 'Guesstimation' that there will be a lot of interest in your new book."

The announced publication for the new book is June, but Adam is expecting that a small shipment of copies will arrive in time for the 15th annual Author Dinner of the Friends of the Old Dominion University Libraries on April 30. He is the featured author for that event. Reservations must be made by April 23; more information can be found at http://www.lib.odu.edu/friends/events/2009/friends15thauthordinner.htm.

"A Mathematical Nature Walk" presents nearly 100 questions that might occur to someone on a nature walk. Adam shows how to arrive at answers using mostly basic mathematics. Questions included are: Can you weigh a pumpkin just by carefully looking at it? Why can you see farther in rain than in fog? What causes the variations in the colors of butterfly wings, bird feathers and oil slicks? Why are large haystacks prone to spontaneous combustion?

Many of the questions are illustrated with photos and drawings, and the book provides answers, a glossary of terms and a list of some of the patterns found in nature.

Adam, who was a 2007 recipient of the Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award sponsored by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, is known for his ability to make numbers interesting. His research has involved mathematical modeling and mathematical biology focused on tumor growth and wound healing. But with his popular writing he has drawn a broader audience into mathematics and patterns.

In a prepublication endorsement of "A Mathematical Nature Walk," Hans Christian von Baeyer, author of "Information: The New Language of Science," writes, "For generations, field guides to plants and animals have sharpened the pleasure of seeing by opening our minds to understanding. Now John Adam has filled a gap in that venerable genre with his painstaking but simple mathematical descriptions of familiar, mundane physical phenomena. This is nothing less than a mathematical field guide to inanimate nature."

Raymond Lee, author of "The Rainbow Bridge," calls the new work "a true gem of popular scientific writing" and says that Adam "adroitly does what all good science writers should do: he inspires readers to observe and then to analyze the world outside their windows."

"Mathematics in Nature" won the Association of American Publishers' Mathematics and Statistics Professional/Scholarly Award in 2004 and was one of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2004. In addition to writing the text for that book, Adam contributed a number of his photographs.

This article was posted on: April 16, 2009

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